Essex v Lancashire: Simon Harmer relishing pressure of expectation

Simon Harmer had a fantastic season for Essex last year. Picture: PA SPORT

Simon Harmer had a fantastic season for Essex last year. Picture: PA SPORT - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

With the sun due to shine relentlessly on the Essex County Ground for the next four days, Simon Harmer will relish the buzz of expectation that will herald his every stride to the crease against Lancashire, writes Martin Smith.

Things tended to happen whenever the ball was in the South African off-spinner’s hand last season as he claimed 72 Specsavers County Championship wickets in Essex’s title triumph.

Memorably, he took 14-wicket hauls in successive outings at Chelmsford in June, posting career-best figures of nine for 95 against Middlesex and 14 for 128 in the match against Warwickshire to lift home supporters out of their seats.

“If you look traditionally at the game in England, the leading wicket-takers have always been seamers,” he said.

“So for the crowd to have expectations of a spinner to take wickets is a compliment to my game and what I achieved last season.

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“I won’t feel any extra pressure, but it will be nice to know the crowd has a belief that when I come on to bowl there’s a chance of wickets.”

In the 54 weeks since he made his Essex debut in the corresponding fixture against Lancashire, Harmer has taken 119 first-class wickets in 22 games.

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Back home, Essex’s kolpak signing finished top wicket-taker in the red-ball Sunfoil Series with 47, 14 more than anyone else and having played two fewer games.

“It’s been a really, really good year,” he concedes, “and I’m very happy where my four-day cricket is at. But, for me, I’m not worried about the stats; I’d rather have trophies in the cabinet.”

Having established himself as one of the leading spinners in the world, 29-year-old Harmer has shifted this summer’s focus to upgrading his all-round white-ball game. “I want to start breaking into some of the bespoke leagues in the off-season,” he says, his eyes primarily on the IPL and Big Bash.

“I feel confident enough now to start venturing into a new challenge and trying different things. Not that I’m going to forget about my four-day cricket.

“I feel going back to South Africa and performing the way I did, I feel a lot more confident going into this season. If I was to do as well as I did last season it would be incredible.”

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